Research studies have shown that yoga is an effective way to relieve low back pain. Many postures in yoga simultaneously stretch and strengthen the low back to help ease chronic discomfort and prevent any new problems. Furthermore, the spine is not an isolated body part. The mechanical function of your spine is affected by the alignment, flexibility and strength of many parts of your body including:

• Foot, knee, leg alignment
• Muscle strength of legs, buttocks, back and abdominal wall
• Abdominal protrusion (as with pregnancy, or a beer belly)
• Hip flexibility
• Position of the pelvis (tilted forward, back or to the side)
• Shape and flexibility of the lumbar (lower back) spinal curve
• Shape and flexibility of the thoracic (upper back) spinal curve
• Shape of the cervical (neck) spinal curve
• Shoulder carriage and mobility
• Position of the head in relation to the shoulders

Spinal Anatomy and Function

The arms, legs, chest all attach to the spine, via the shoulder girdle, pelvis and ribs. The weight of the head is perched on the end of the spine. Therefore, the spine affects and is affected by every movement your body makes. For example, if your head is not properly balanced, the natural curve of the neck becomes distorted. If the arms or legs don’t have full range of motion, the spine must compensate by extra bending and twisting. Yoga helps people learn to maintain proper posture and spinal alignment throughout the day, placing less strain on the back and spine.

Muscles that Act on the Spine

Running parallel to your spine are the erector spinae muscles, deep muscles of the back that support the spine in the upright position. The erector spinae rotate the spine, bend it backward and sideways, and influence posture by helping create and maintain the proper spinal curves. If the erector spinae are too tight, they contribute to swayback. If they are too stretched out, they contribute to a flat back. If they are overworked, they can go into painful spasms. Yoga helps maintain back health by both stretching and strengthening the erector spinae.

The lower back is also significantly influenced by three sets of muscles that attach to the pelvis or the lumbar vertebrae: the hip flexors (which raise the thigh toward the chest), the abdominals, and the hamstrings (long muscles on the back of the thigh). These muscles can create a forward or backward tilt to the pelvis, leading to an increase or decrease in the lumbar curve. For example, because hip flexors attach to the front of the pelvis, tight hip flexors will tilt the pelvis forward, creating sway back. Tight hamstrings will tilt it backwards, creating a flat back. Weak abdominal muscles will allow the pelvis to drop forward and will fail to support the lumbar spine from the front. Yoga can help correct these problems by improving overall range of motion and flexibility.

Each of your joints is controlled by at least two sets of muscles: the flexors (which bend the joint) and the extensors, which straighten it. In addition, a number of joints have rotator muscles that twist, turn, or rotate the bones. Good posture can only exist when the flexors, extensors and rotators are in proper balance. But often the muscles acting upon a joint are out of balance. For example, the flexors may be tighter or shorter than the extensors, so that the joint can not be fully straightened; or the muscles that rotate the joint in one direction may be stronger than those that rotate it the other way. These unequal forces make the joint weaker and more vulnerable. Many people with back or neck pain suffer from imbalances of the flexors, extensors and rotators of the spine, arms and legs. With an intelligent program of stretching and strengthening (as with yoga) the muscle groups can be brought back into balance.

To see and learn specific yoga postures and exercises to help chronic back pain, go to

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Categories: Yoga